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Should MPs look after their own interests?

Mark Easton | 13:58 UK time, Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Four hundred breaches of the Parliamentary rules involving more than 20 members of Parliament; breaches which the MPs' Code of Conduct describes as "very serious". At stake, according to public figures I have interviewed about it, is the integrity of our democratic system, the reputation of our Parliament and public trust in our elected representatives.

parliamentSo why, when I raised this with members involved, did I often get the sense that they thought I was making a mountain out of a mole-hill?

One MP responded sharply to my questions: "Surely you have more important things to do. I do."

So, does it really matter that some of our elected representatives fail to declare relevant hospitality from an overseas country? Many of the breaches we cite might be put down to forgetfulness or to oversight.

The MPs had, in most cases, registered their visits. The mistake, it might be argued, was simply a bureaucratic nicety; ticking the little box on the form when tabling a question or signing a motion which would place an "[R]" beside their name on the order paper, alerting people to the registered interest.

As one MP put it when admitting such breaches: "This is a technical error on my part."

Well, the BBC is not claiming to have unearthed mass corruption at the heart of our legislature. But the rules are there for good reason.

Parliament knows what damage could be done if people outside are allowed to think that MPs are getting "trips for questions": nice holidays in lovely places in return for political favours. Or worse, that they are being glad-handed by a foreign power in return for influence within the Palace of Westminster.

The Code of Conduct spells it out:

Members are reminded that when accepting foreign visits they should be mindful of the reputation of the House.

It also says that:

The Committee on Standards and Privileges has made it clear that it would regard it as a very serious breach of the rules if a Member failed to register or declare an interest which was relevant to a proceeding he or she had initiated.

The point of the regulations is to ensure that a sceptical citizenry can be confident about the integrity of its elected representatives. Transparency is key.

However, my initial attempts at investigating this area were met by resistance from the Parliamentary authorities themselves.

When I first called the office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards asking for help in interpreting the rules, I was told that it would not assist me "because you have a particular case in mind".

I explained that I needed to understand the regulations in order to check whether elected members were behaving as they should. This, I argued, was exactly what an independent press was required to do in a democracy.

"I cannot help you," I was told.

"You provide guidance on the rules to MPs," I protested. "Surely you can provide the same guidance to me?" Not that day.

Code of conductAlthough the commissioner's office did eventually assist us with the official interpretation of the rules, this initial contact suggests what many people outside Westminster suspect: the system of Parliamentary self-regulation is designed to protect, not just the reputation of the House of Commons, but its members.

Instead of providing transparency, the Rules Relating to the Conduct of Members are opaque, confusing and sometimes contradictory. Many members, it emerged during the course of our investigation, are ignorant of what is required of them.

Of the four hundred and more breaches we identified, the vast majority relate to a failure to declare a registered interest. A number of the MPs we contacted said they didn't think a declaration was necessary - and argued it was a matter for them to decide.

A few quoted this line from the rules:

It is the responsibility of the Member, having regard to the rules of the House, to judge whether a financial interest is sufficiently relevant to a particular debate, proceeding, meeting or other activity to require a declaration.

They interpreted this to mean that if they didn't think it was relevant, it wasn't relevant. But the very next line in the regulations explains:

The basic test of relevance should be the same for declaration as it is for registration of an interest; namely, that a financial interest should be declared if it might reasonably be thought by others to influence the speech, representation or communication in question.

The whole system works only if members take this responsibility seriously. Declaration doesn't imply wrong-doing, but a failure to declare might be interpreted that way. The widespread abuse of the system uncovered by our investigation suggests some members of Parliament don't understand this.

The MP who heads the Commons Public Administration Select Committee, Tony Wright, says:

"Declarations should be the norm. It is quite proper for MPs to go on visits. Some of those visits will be financed by foreign governments. But it is crucial that we know who people are lobbying on behalf of. And if they're lobbying on behalf of governments who have paid for their visits, then clearly we need to know about it."

What really struck me as I conducted the investigation is that the system of scrutiny surrounding the rules clearly does not work.

The only time the Commissioner for Parliamentary Standards will look into a potential breach is if someone lodges a formal complaint. Since members from all the major parties are apparently breaking the rules on a regular basis, one can understand why MPs themselves might be reluctant to rock that boat.

Identifying members who have breached the rules on overseas visits was laborious, but not difficult. For the most part, it simply involved comparing the register of interests against Hansard and the rules. Without much effort, we identified hundreds of breaches which the rules regard as "very serious". There will be many more we didn't identify.

For me, the exercise is less about exposing individual MPs' failings as it is about revealing the weaknesses of the scrutiny process.

Sir Alistair Graham, the former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, puts it like this:

"If, day after day when people are standing up in Parliament, signing early day motions and asking questions of ministers, and they are not declaring an interest they should have declared, then they are undermining the integrity of the system. And if we undermine our democratic system in this country, we will do untold damage for the future."

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  • 1. At 2:19pm on 23 Mar 2010, presario wrote:

    Look at the influence of Freemasonry at the same time!
    Civil servants should be banned from membership.

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  • 2. At 2:25pm on 23 Mar 2010, ghostofsichuan wrote:

    Unregulated banking...financial collapse......members warned well in advance and nothing done.....influence of banking lobbyist? Financial interest of members? Things got out of hand and must be corrected....those who steal will also lie.

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  • 3. At 3:30pm on 23 Mar 2010, philip wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 4. At 3:35pm on 23 Mar 2010, John Ellis wrote:

    No they should not look after themselves.

    any visit that requires interaction on the part of a group or government should be as short as humanly possible as well. Thus reducing the courtesy bill which I'm sure we have ourselves, how many overseas government officials holiday at the uk tax payers expense.


    Do they also count as official bonafide holiday days off work or are they seen as part of work?

    all very dubious this..

    What about this new strike from British gas seems to becoming popular topic nowadays bad mangers bulling managers greedy shareholders all trying to squeeze the rats into a faster race. It seems that this quite little England is slowly finding its voice.

    Got to feel sorry for the police over the next few weeks when mephedrone gets made illegal. Dealers all over the place I wonder what the sentence will be.? I did hear of turf wars breaking out between mephedrone and coke dealers across various news blogs dunno the truth in it but it seems the coke dealers ain't to happy at the customer shift.

    So summing it all up No they should all be nannied and spoon feed as they are unable to look after use so the thought of them looking after themselves is terrifying.

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  • 5. At 3:50pm on 23 Mar 2010, AqualungCumbria wrote:

    The problem is they are the people who made the rules, many of the quotes you make are unambiguous and state clearly the responsibility an MP has...they have however chosen to ignore this and in many case have benefitted from this however they hide behind very weak excuses that no longer hold water.

    If it said any breach in these rules would result in immediate suspension from parliament and a by election, you would see a different response from these people they would take a lot more care about their dealings.

    They are supposed to be people who are capable of making decisions about laws for the rest of society, if they cannot or are unable to abide by the rules themselves then they have to pay the consequences.

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  • 6. At 3:54pm on 23 Mar 2010, Framer wrote:

    I don't know why you are continuing to blog in politics Mark when your title is Home Editor but your inexperience shows when you major on something that on closer inspection turns out to be fairly trivial and based on an over-eager interpretation of the Commons regulations.

    MPs who go on trips to foreign countries and who properly record the visits can be assumed almost by definition to be sympathetic to that country or its regime. This is the case with Greek Cyprus which has funded an inordinate number of such visits. The MPs enthusiasm will be well known in the constituency largely because of their pandering to a significant number of Greek Cypriot electors.

    Nowadays a flick of the mouse will bring up most MPs' interests so repetition of a technical as opposed to a real interest is not really needed and would clog up the system.

    It would be rare for a neutral or antagonistic MP to be asked to go on such a trip and to be turned thereby into an advocate for the country. In that unusual case I suppose a declaration of interest would be appropriate although it would be somewhat embarrassing to admit a free trip had made you change your view.

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  • 7. At 3:54pm on 23 Mar 2010, James Rigby wrote:

    I used to work for a big firm of accountants/auditors. The rules on expenses, declarations of gifts, chinese walls, segregation of duties, independence, not working with a client if that client provided pet insurance to your maiden aunt's parrot, etc were vast, very well adhered to and well-enforced.

    This was in a firm of 6000+ employees in the UK and over 100,000 globally. So why is it so hard to get this right for 650 MPs?

    In my job, the rules were clear and if you broke the rules, you were out. No appeals or enquiries. If the same applied to MPs, perhaps they might all start behaving a bit better.

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  • 8. At 3:56pm on 23 Mar 2010, FedupwithGovt wrote:

    The whole lot of those arrogant, out of touch, stealing, trough guzzling, untruthful, lazy dross - oops! I mean Right Honourable Members need to be run out of parliament. They make me sick - the lot of them!

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  • 9. At 3:57pm on 23 Mar 2010, Barbelo wrote:

    MPs should not look after their own interests. They cant be trusted.

    They have proved themselves to have little honour or integrity, let alone any common sense.

    All this being called to serve others as an MP appearsto be a call just to serve themselves. Sweeping statement this may be, and I realise there may be one or two with integrity, but that is what they do themselves!

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  • 10. At 4:20pm on 23 Mar 2010, NoImSpartacus wrote:

    Can the esteem of our governing classes sink any lower? The general public really do think they're all a bunch of sleaze-bags. Dishonest, self serving, sleaze-bags.

    I don't know who to vote for anymore. Can someone please do something to rescue our democracy? Please save us!

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  • 11. At 4:31pm on 23 Mar 2010, watriler wrote:

    Another reflection of the New Labour ethos that it's OK to be on the make has obviously infected the Parliamentary Labour Party all the way up to ex SoS's. It is a small change parallel universe to that in the City, the upper reaches of Public Sector management, and the ever widening gap between rich and poor.

    Some say New Labour is finished - well who knows, but I might even go back to voting Labour in a few weeks time

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  • 12. At 4:40pm on 23 Mar 2010, ajollygoodriddancetoall wrote:

    ...yes but we will know the result after the election through the 'Great Chilcot' inquiry which will solve all political problems of the past and, quite possibly, of the future...

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  • 13. At 4:45pm on 23 Mar 2010, Megan wrote:

    The sort of things that MPs shrug off as 'oversights' are ones which would have got me summarily dismissed from any position I've held in either the commercial or educational spheres.

    I suppose such colossal arrogance goes with actually thinking you are capable of 'governing' the country - but it is time that every single MP realises that they are merely employed to act on our behalf and according to our wishes.

    We need root and branch reform, such that politics becomes an honourable profession once more.

    The other day, my daughter came home from school very apologetic. Had she got a detention for not doing her maths homework? Had she set fire to the school during cookery class? No - she was considering standing for the Youth Parliament. Times were it would be a matter of pride to see one's offspring considering public service...

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  • 14. At 4:47pm on 23 Mar 2010, Peter Galbavy wrote:

    "They still don't get it."

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  • 15. At 4:57pm on 23 Mar 2010, iansss wrote:

    What annoys people is (a) that they make rules for other people but think it doesn't matter much if they keep any rules themselves and (b) they go on making rules for themselves and others even though there's no sensible provision for monitoring and enforcing compliance consistently -- which is a charter for busybodies to enforce things as and when they feel so inclined: result = unfairness.

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  • 16. At 4:59pm on 23 Mar 2010, virtualsilverlady wrote:

    It becomes evermore apparent that most of these MP's are exploiting every opportunity to feather their own nests.

    They have become so overconfident that they are imune to the laws of the parliament they are supposed to represent and the protection of the whips who dictate their every move that the whole democracy of the country is deeply under threat.

    Sir George Young has produced a report on parliamentary reform but so far nothing has been actioned. This should have been a priority before a general election.

    The whole population must feel threatened by these people who are supposed to be running the country and end up destroying everthing we hold worthwhile. So what do they do when what we need is strong leadership.

    All we can do is to scrutinise carefully those would be new MP's especially those in safe seats and if we don't like what we see to vote for an individual who we do like the look of regardless of party. The whole system is now in need of a big shakeup but whether disenfranchied people can be shaken out of their apathy to do it is another matter.

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  • 17. At 8:30pm on 23 Mar 2010, Doctor Bob wrote:

    With people in power like this it makes me wonder how on earth they can expect society to function at all. You can't expect the populace at large to be honest and cohesive with this sort of flagrant mischief at the top.

    I doubt there's any answer. Rules and procedures are never definitive. There's always a way to circumvent them if someone is so determined. In former times a sense of propriety, trust and honour would have guided MPs, just as it did most ordinary people in society. Seems those times have been abandoned. We have anarchy on our streets - we have the same in Parliament. These blighters will get away with it. Just as the "for hire" bunch will come off all right, nests well feathered.

    So which is the chicken and the egg? Is it a failing society electing unfit leadership; or the unfit, nefarious leadership breeding an unfit, nefarious society? I suspect the latter.

    I haven't a clue how to restore honour, duty and right-mindedness to the political elite. They clearly don't want it.

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  • 18. At 8:38pm on 23 Mar 2010, Doctor Bob wrote:

    #13 Megan wrote:
    The sort of things that MPs shrug off as 'oversights' are ones which would have got me summarily dismissed from any position I've held in either the commercial or educational spheres.

    I suppose such colossal arrogance goes with actually thinking you are capable of 'governing' the country - but it is time that every single MP realises that they are merely employed to act on our behalf and according to our wishes.

    We need root and branch reform, such that politics becomes an honourable profession once more.


    You got it dead-on. They're public servants, the elected guardians of our society, such as it is.

    The problem is with the people. The rules and regulations are adequate for right-minded people which some of our MPs clearly are not.

    No amount of reform will change the people if they're determined to find ways to be dishonest - short of dismissal with loss of benefits. Even then the underhanded will make sure they keep friends in high places so that when sacked they can be sure of a highly paid job.

    I'm sure that a good many politicians are honest and do their best to represent their constituents but the whole edifice is brought down by the machinations of the rest.

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  • 19. At 9:10pm on 23 Mar 2010, clamdip lobster claws wrote:

    Mark Easton,
    You Go! Tell them Parliamentarian varmints a thing or two.

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  • 20. At 10:15pm on 23 Mar 2010, John_from_Hendon wrote:

    The foreign visits business is a bit of a storm in a tea cup isn't it as nobody is claiming that the MPs concerned made money out of their actions/inactions are they? (Unlike the expenses thing.)

    The key is that these rules are made up on the basis that these people are men and women of honour - which many of them simply aren't!

    Publish everything that they do and receive, and also everything that is done and received by the members of the press and the press barons who own the papers that give us these stories, and indeed by the sanctimonious people who read these stories and tut tut! Full disclosure - that is what is needed.

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  • 21. At 10:17pm on 23 Mar 2010, Mwbar1 wrote:

    It's the "I've done nothing wrong!" response when caught red-handed that really sticks in the throat. By which they mean that there is an interpretation of the rules that can be applied, however tenuously, that would seem to allow their behaviour even though any right minded person can see that they have broken the spirit if not the letter of the rules. They also seem to read the rulebook in a very selective manner, picking out just those parts that support their position and ignoring any contradictory sections.

    This is also reflected in the ministerial responses to the lobbying issues where they claim to have done "nothing wrong" but at the very least they have deliberately misled people that they are trying to get thousands of pounds a day out of, for influence they claim but then say they would never use. That might not be against Parliamentary rules but can't they see that it is wrong? Surely we don't need special rules outlawing lies to prospective clients? Steven Byers says he overstated his influence but that is only true if he had some influence. If, as is now being claimed,he had none then it is a lie not an overstatement.

    As someone else said - They still don't get it....... We want them to behave as Honourable Members not Spivs.

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  • 22. At 10:48pm on 23 Mar 2010, Paul Jakma wrote:

    John Hendon,

    At least with expenses they weren't bending the laws and regulations of the land.

    Personally, I'd much rather that MPs were raking in money from the public trough - and hence not be beholden to anyone - than that they rake in money in return for serving private or overseas interests.

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  • 23. At 11:27pm on 23 Mar 2010, Vic BW wrote:

    Some of our MPs are the best money can buy.

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  • 24. At 06:41am on 24 Mar 2010, Daisy Chained wrote:

    Surely if an MP is doing their job properly they have a vested interest in everything and that is why they should not be doing anything other than being an MP. They make the laws and they discuss interpretation whilst making them. They write their own rules and they discuss interpretation whilst writing them.

    So really there can be no excuses. Unless, of course, we introduce "monkey grooming" or "you watch my back and I'll watch yours". The problem with the expenses scandal was not just the expenditure, it was the attempted cover up, just as all the freebies become immersed in a whole pile of misleading documents. To break the back of this subterfuge requires the elimination of the party machines, the pressing of criminal charges for breaches of trust, and a general fumigation of Westminster.

    I would like to see every member of the Houses of Commons or Lords restricted to no more than a ten years tenure of office. Let the Officers of Parliament be the continuity needed not the members.

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  • 25. At 08:48am on 24 Mar 2010, jon112dk wrote:

    In other countries if you want to influence the government you just pay them a bribe. For example in Afghanistan much has been said and written about the level of corruption.

    In the UK we are much more sophisticated.

    In the UK you pay an MP to be a 'parliamentary advisor' or a 'non-executive director.' Obviously all these hard headed businessmen are paying out £1000-£5000 a day for ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. None of these MPs are passing information which is not in the public domain. None of them are influencing policy or laws. None of them are influencing the decision makers. The businessmen just pay them for nothing. They must think we are stupid.

    I would like to see an end to the use of euphemisms ('sleaze' 'lobbying') for this. When it happens in Afghanistan the press call it 'corruption' - why not the same language when it happens here?

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  • 26. At 09:56am on 24 Mar 2010, kaybraes wrote:

    Regulation should be external and enforceable in law. It must not consist of establishment figures or civil servants who in the main already have a vested interest. Perhaps a judge to supervise and a jury of ordinary people drawn as a jury is, serving for one year at a time under the judge's guidance. They must however have power through the law to make decisions that will be binding in law, and the power to order police action at their discretion , not at the discretion of the CPS.

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  • 27. At 10:35am on 24 Mar 2010, LippyLippo wrote:

    Anyone who thinks that our politicians are corrupt money-grabbers ought to try working in any of the Latin countries, Ireland or even some parts of USA. They make our guys look positively angelic! The top level of private industry is no different really. MPs have to be determined, egotistical, selfish people to get where they are. Why would anyone think they will suddenly turn into saints the minute they're elected?

    Politics (and law) are like sausages. We are all better off not knowing how they're made or what goes into them. I'm sure these media people have to justify their jobs by poking at the sores in our society, but it really doesn't help them to heal. The 'Telegraph' made a packet of money out of exposing all this expense scandal - they didn't do it out of altruism. How many journalists have bribed, bullied and lied to get a story? If you look for dirt hard enough, you'll find it, no matter how clean something seems to be at first glance.

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  • 28. At 11:05am on 24 Mar 2010, AnonAnonAnon wrote:

    I wonder if there are any MPs who are honest and put our country and us before themselves.

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  • 29. At 11:28am on 24 Mar 2010, Darren Shepperd wrote:

    A lie by omission is still a lie.
    These are meant to be educated intelligent people they know what they do.
    In most walks of life if you lie to your employer you are sacked I fail to see why these lying, thieving, cheating, selfish people are not treated the same.
    This is just another failing of the party politics as when all is said and done they parties will look after each other long before they look after us.

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  • 30. At 12:36pm on 24 Mar 2010, jon112dk wrote:

    28. At 11:05am on 24 Mar 2010, AnonAnonAnon wrote:
    I wonder if there are any MPs who are honest and put our country and us before themselves.
    ===================================

    Hi Anon -

    Yes I think there are one or two honest MPs.

    If you went to the original source of the MP expenses thing, the Telegraph, they had pages and pages of dodgy MPs and what they had claimed. But to their credit they also had small sections each day detailing the tiny and almost inadequate claims of a small number of honest MPs. The secondary news sources (other papers, TV etc) tended to mention only the dodgy ones, not the honest people.

    To me it just made it all the more obvious that in the face of weak controls honest people do not take advantage, dishonest people fill their pockets.

    Basically an integrity test that most of them failed.

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  • 31. At 11:41pm on 24 Mar 2010, copperDolomite wrote:

    So can the single parent mum who fails to tell the housing benefit people something just say it was irrelevant technicality anyway?

    I'm so disgusted with this lot of people who think they are in a different class, well they are in a different class, a class of the arrogant fools.

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  • 32. At 01:05am on 25 Mar 2010, seeboard wrote:

    Perhaps we sould take a poistive view. We elect them and I believe that we should have a say on their benefits. The parlimentary quangos that decide their pay and benefits need to go and a representive of elected voters determine what benefits they get. When are we going to stand up for democracy. When you think about it democracy is young. OK women got the vote 90 years ago, blacks in america 45 years ago and some countries dont have it yet. Its time to voice your opinion. Its no good just saying our lot are better than Latin countries and our press have also issues. Perhaps we need to decide what we as an electorate want as oppossed to just comparing ourselves with waht we have and others have?

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  • 33. At 10:06am on 25 Mar 2010, John Ellis wrote:

    Copper nope if your on the other side then you pay everything back..

    because my wife and myself didn't understand and failed to be properly advised by the DWP we owe incapacity 6 months worth of benefit as from the date we stopped claiming child benefit apparently I was no longer entitled to claim for my wife on incapacity.

    The really frustrating thing is it was the failure of the benefits system to advise us of the change in benefits entitlement.
    The really Ironic thing is If we had known about this we would have been better off.
    So as it stands today my wife is allowed to claim back 3 months care allowance and 3 months income support but we still owe 6 months worth of incapacity. this leave an underpayment under law of 3 months worth of care and income support which she is not entitled to???

    So its going to be very interesting to see were 3 months worth of income is going to come from in order for us to pay back money that we were entitled to via one benefit or the other but are disallowed under system rules. So I have to begin the payback of £1060 even though in theory they owe us it in unclaimed and unadvised benefits.

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  • 34. At 12:23pm on 25 Mar 2010, DibbySpot wrote:

    MPs on election to office should recognise their interests are subserviant to the electorate. All shares, investments and other interactions should be placed in a blind trust.

    Sadly, a large minority of MPs have been caught out. Those who have not actually been caught are probably hiding some dark little secret. In fact any MP that voted against reform - Brown, Cameron and Osbourne included should be forced to resign since they prove themselves unfit for government.

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  • 35. At 1:20pm on 25 Mar 2010, thtone wrote:

    The increased authority of 'the press and media' must surely be directly related to the decline of respect and authority of 'elected representatives' at all levels of the democratic system.

    A generation ago a majority of electors belonged to local political party associations and their clubs. That has now ceased and must again demonstrate a lack of popular support.

    The electorate do not vote.

    I just wonder where it is all leading to?

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  • 36. At 4:04pm on 25 Mar 2010, SSnotbanned wrote:

    True.

    ''Many of the breaches may,... be down to forgetfulness or oversight.''.

    Just like MP's forgetting to ask for a pay rise above inflation and above independent recommendations.
    Because they are so busy, ...planning their holidays.

    Happens all the time...in a foolocracy.

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  • 37. At 4:57pm on 25 Mar 2010, confusus wrote:

    No 1 join reality, it only the Grundian & Nu-Lab that still believes Freemasons rule the Universe (although they cannot spell it the same twice in any article).

    The “Honourable Member” joins a grossly over paid fraternity or sorority to gain a well paid income in the minds of workers, obviously not Grundian readers and civil servants. These people have obtained money by not telling the truth! Were a worker to do this, collar felt, clank of keys and no freedom for X period!
    Why are these charlatans better? Because they regulate the rules and still break them!
    Cake and eating springs to mind!

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  • 38. At 4:58pm on 25 Mar 2010, confusus wrote:

    Why not they look after no-one's else!

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  • 39. At 5:27pm on 25 Mar 2010, Greenfly wrote:

    These 'Honourable members' take every opportunity to feather their own nests at vast expense to the taxpayers. Their pensions alone are of the solid gold variety whist they've been busily destroying everyone else's. Why on earth do we need so much (mis)representation anyway. If we halved their numbers I bet nobody would notice the difference, except the treasury.

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  • 40. At 9:05pm on 25 Mar 2010, clamdip lobster claws wrote:

    Someone needs to look into Parliament's connection to organized crime regarding certain large scale building projects too!

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  • 41. At 06:44am on 26 Mar 2010, Daisy Chained wrote:

    #27 LippyLippo

    Although there are bottom feeders everywhere in society, society does not have to make them important and sadly that is what society has done in the last thirty years.

    Talent is a very evasive quality to define since it only appears when people are given the chance to demonstrate it. Unfortunately for over a generation we have chosen to dampen enthusiasm and individuality and encourage the clone - do as I say, not as I do. Personally I prefer the plain speaking "dumbing it down" in explaining why corruption and lack of moral fibre are so rife today.

    Take away honesty and dignity and there is nothing left in the human condition.

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  • 42. At 10:19am on 26 Mar 2010, John of Weston-super-Mare wrote:

    I have been listening to Hoon`s explanation of his recent conduct shown in the C4 Dispatches program.
    How does a man like this become Defence Minister? Are there no vetting procedures? What did he mean when he offered `strategic advice`?
    Perhaps all defence contracts placed during his period of office should be examined to see what influence he exerted

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  • 43. At 3:25pm on 26 Mar 2010, chas hammond wrote:

    I understand that the "Commissioner" will not investigate unless a complaint has been made! If a complaint has not been made; I can understand that the BBC would not make it.

    If you advise me how to go about it, I (as a non political person) will make the complaint.

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  • 44. At 4:01pm on 26 Mar 2010, bluntjeremy wrote:

    Hi Mark

    Trust you spotted that the Advertising Standards Authority has just banned a Labour advertisement on policing for being misleading, i.e. twisting statistics to say something that wasn't actually accurate.

    Look forward to your damning blog and expose on Labour's misuse of public statistics therefore.

    Recall that this sort of thing is terribly close to your heart, so should be good reading.

    Or do you only publish negative blogs about the Tories?

    P.S. Any further comment trashing the Commons Library violent crime statistics? Am sure it's work in progress.

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  • 45. At 4:40pm on 26 Mar 2010, Wardonia wrote:

    Nobody should be allowed to investigate themselves, it is the ultimate in stupidity.

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  • 46. At 7:12pm on 26 Mar 2010, RonC wrote:

    MP’s believe that they are a class above the law, but no one should ever be above the law. Even the President of USA is not above the law as Tricky Dicky found out.

    As soon as you set someone above the law then corruption and abuse will occur and as a result damage to the parliamentary system is irreparable which in my view is a good thing, as I think the system is archaic, undemocratic, unrepresentative and long overdue reform.

    The question is, if this is happening on this scale in Britain then what about Brussels?

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  • 47. At 8:06pm on 26 Mar 2010, Peter Thomas wrote:

    Geoff Hoon! This man is unbelieveable and so are the constituents who vote for him. Once a Buff-hoon ?????????

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  • 48. At 11:29pm on 26 Mar 2010, treetop91 wrote:

    The buck should stop at the top instead of the media allowing themselves to be bamboozled and misled. MP's have been given teh nod to fiddle expenses by recent Prime Ministers asan alternative to the politically sensitive reailty of salary increases. The Speaker himself encouraged this by replacing Elizabet Filkin,paying expensive lawyers to fight FOI requests and Brown has been most reluctant to criticise any Labour Mp caught out by the Fees office or recent enquiries. When will the media attack those responsible ?

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  • 49. At 11:31am on 27 Mar 2010, bluntjeremy wrote:

    Hi Mark

    Isn't this appalling: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8590248.stm

    Our dearly beloved leader misusing official statistics to paint a thoroughly misleading picture. Twisting the facts to the point of a lie basically. And the Office for National Statistics backing the Tories' complaint.

    Look forward to at least 3 or 4 scandalied blogs from you attacking Labour severely on this.

    After all, we must keep a balance on the BBC, mustn't we?

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  • 50. At 12:06pm on 27 Mar 2010, Clevor Trever wrote:

    Accepting the fact that the government seems incapable of implementing any sort of IT project that does its intended job, is delivered on time and within budget - why not try an IT solution in this case?

    If the poor dears who are really so busy with better things to do can't remember to tick an "R" box, why not get a computer to do it for them? Surely their registered interests are held on a database in the first place, so this suggestion of an "computer-aided-auto-tick-box" would take away the issue of being "forgetful" or "busy" or "dishonourable" or all three.

    Most of the rest of us are treated in this sort of computer-based automated way when we are being fleeced of income tax, after all.

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  • 51. At 7:03pm on 27 Mar 2010, Framer wrote:

    BluntJeremy is spot on Mark.

    You can't be so busy that you are unable to give us a rundown on the deceitful figures Gordon Brown is using on immigration and what the real ones are.

    I do notice your chum Sir Michael Scholar hasn't issued his usual enraged press statement about Tory misuse of statistics.

    What do you make of this government statistic from the House of Lords on 17 March 2010 (Column WA193)

    National Insurance Number Registrations to Adult Overseas Nationals entering the UK since 1 January 2002: 4,285,130

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  • 52. At 11:30am on 28 Mar 2010, Daisy Chained wrote:

    #50

    You hit the nail right on the head. Why are MP expenses, business interests, and so on not recorded electronically so that we can see them for ourselves, on line and instantly what they are up to? After all Mr Brown is keen on IT services to deal with tax credits, employment and benefit processes, including an infamous medical assessment routine that changes whatever you may have as a "disability" to fitness for work. Of course the resulting expensive appeals are manual thus obscuring the real cost of these ill conceived procedures.

    The real problem with the UK is that the ruling classes like their cosy positions but do not feel that the vast majority are anything like ready to share them out with some others.

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  • 53. At 2:01pm on 28 Mar 2010, John Ellis wrote:

    seems lots of pepole are looking after thier own interests.

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article7076510.ece

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  • 54. At 3:05pm on 28 Mar 2010, Rustigjongens wrote:

    bluntjeremy,

    Agree with you that Mr Easton should at least write one article on Labours latest lies regarding crime statistics, however, do you really thing someone so pro-Labour would do so?.

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  • 55. At 08:38am on 29 Mar 2010, smartjim wrote:

    I think you're all being mean to these nice people. We have the best politicians money can buy.
    For a mere 4 or 5 grand you can rent an ex-minister for a day who will change Government policy to suit you. This is real democracy in action. Where else in the world can a private individual influence government policy?

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  • 56. At 11:36am on 30 Mar 2010, Logistical wrote:

    The company I work for has strict rules on expenses, second jobs & relasioships with clients. These rules are policed and policies exist to manage offenders. This company employes 20,000 + people worldwide. Yet our 650 MPs seem to want to convince the public that having a robust system in place to manage thier intrests is some how too dificult to put in place. What total and utter rubbish! It is clear they still do not get the point of what has happened recently and still, therefore, do not feel the need to fall in to line with the rest of us. They need to wake up or be prepared to see either politics continue in its' terminal decline resulting in total apathy with turnouts of below 20% or a backlash.

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  • 57. At 4:20pm on 30 Mar 2010, Wartonsuperman wrote:

    Stupid question, they have been looking after there own interests for years. This the reason the country is in the state that it is. No thought has been put to the rest of us when their main energy is to see what they can do for themselves.Bring on the revolution.

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  • 58. At 9:36pm on 30 Mar 2010, kat wrote:

    It has just been proved again that they are a law onto themselves and we cannot touch them. They do as they please, we are told things will change but we are not told things will change after arrangements have been made for everyone to escape any punishment or to pay anything back.
    I give up.How stupid do they think the ordinary people are. I put my hands up you have won but I will never vote again for anyone. I have scraped better from the sole of my shoe than these dishonest people who are trying to tell me how I should live. There is no difference in any of them because they ALL knew what was going on and nobody really tried to stop it . In my view you are all guilty. It seems that local councils are worse again but I dont suppose anyone wants to stop that gravy boat either. I would guess that there is not too many people doing time for theft that have stole larger amounts than these MP'S. When are they going to get released?

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  • 59. At 7:23pm on 31 Mar 2010, shig wrote:

    They are like children locked in a sweetshop overnight

    They can not be trusted with or to do anything without the closest scrutiny.

    "Prime Minister Gordon Brown has acknowledged that he misused immigration figures after being criticised by the statistics watchdog"

    How many times are they going to get away with it before they are punished as the rest of us would be

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  • 60. At 2:58pm on 05 Apr 2010, aristotles23 wrote:

    If we seek to define politics we inevitably come to the conclusion that it is(supposed to be)"The art of managing populations and their needs,influences,relationships and differences" We do not have to look closely to see that the people in politics are engaged in a massive deception,of themselves and everyone else.They deceive themselves when they confuse the spirit and the letter of the code,with a more personal and "interpretative" view of the code,arguing to themselves,"I have not "broken" any rules,I only do what all the others do.."They deceive everyone else by repetition of the "no rules broken" mantra.To spot a few mistakes made on forms when members are going through a stack of paperwork in a short time,is one thing..Consistent and endlessly recurring "mistakes" made on a daily,weekly,monthly and yearly basis are,in each members case,symptomatic of one of two,not mutually exclusive positions.Either the member is chronically imbecilic and unable to stop making basic errors,or,as is more likely,they make deliberate,sufficiently small,"mistakes" on a regular basis,that they all know are "plausibly deniable" evidence of systematic corruption.In either case,there is a need for "culture change"If the code did not contain so much ambiguity and had instead unequivocal,clear rules that were impossible to "misinterpret",then we may say that we have a chance of real accountability..If the excuse is imbecility,then sack them,if that is not the reason..investigation by special branch with a clear mandate for potential prosecutions,may be one way to use the stick as well as the carrot.We know corruption is endemic in politics,but it does not have to be..Change the code..force accountability on politicians,its the only way it will happen.If not,they'll just keep ripping off the taxpayers in the seemingly innumerable ways that they do.The lobbying on behalf of any government,business,individual or industry etc.Must be something under close scrutiny,for obvious reasons.Any whiff of any sort of bribery,any sort of gain for the member as an individual,must render such lobbying as grounds for disciplinary action and/or dismissal,and I would include,retrospective prosecution, if any member could be proven to have broken the law in, or as a result of, such lobbying and its included activities.Come on chaps,you get better remunerations and pensions than any other working person,is that not enough? Or are you all about to prove once again that you are all the opposite of incorruptible?....

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  • 61. At 09:25am on 09 Apr 2010, mypov wrote:

    What I can't understand is how the new system to monitor MP's expenses is going to cost so much to run! £6.6 million for a watchdog to look at the expense claims of 650 people! Surely it could be done by a few civil servants (2 Admin officers, supervised by an HEO)? If all claims and responses had to be published on-line and were able to be viewed by press and public alike and the HEO was only answerable to a cross party committee, this would be a more transparent and less influenced way of controlling MP's expenses. One government gravy train stops and another one pulls out of the station!

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  • 62. At 11:16am on 20 Apr 2010, DibbySpot wrote:

    Absolutely not - they do such a bad job of the country. We cannot trust any of them.

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  • 63. At 10:24pm on 23 Apr 2010, aristotles23 wrote:

    Any "watchdog" that has a £6.6 million budget per annum,will,in today's terms,be a cheap,tame "watchdog"indeed!At that price it will probably work out that some "top people" who already have several "chairs" and directorships,will meet several times a year to agree on the statement they know will be acceptable(after consultation with the relevant minister)Even supposing that was the case,I think they'd want a lot more than that..It is a cynical game,politics..I suppose it makes the people in it more cynical than they might have been..Change the code,make them accountable.Make the attendees at parliamentary standards,swear on oath,make the whole thing just like attending court.Employ ambitious young back- benchers as a proportion of the adjudication panel.Give them the power to suspend the member pending further(police)investigation,if necessary.In the "real world" I think a semblance of balance can be reached by,rewarding our mps well,and,punishing corrupt behaviour harshly.This would serve to make politics attractive,financially,to a professional who would be happy to combine a really good salary with the ethos of service to their country,rather than self-enrichment at tax payers expense.

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